Melton prior Institut


Linton- Life in the Collections

Alexander Gilchrist:

33) Life of William Blake, "Pictor Ignotus" 2 Vol.

London 1863

After the death of the author, his widow and former peer Anne Gilchrist managed to accomplish the editing of this two-volume biography that rescued its subject from obscurity and made it accessible to a broader audience. She was supported by the counsels of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his brother William, who recommended taking Linton on board to be responsible for the pictorial selection and the reproductions of the graphics. Blake’s paintings and watercolours were reproduced as photolithographs, whereas nearly all of his drawings were transferred and interpreted by Linton himself. Most of them were reproduced by Kerography, the relief printing technique that Linton had developed especially for the transfer of line drawings. Some of the most vivid images in the biography such as Plague (p.55), which could be easily held for reproductions of Blake’s originals, are actually ingenious montages by Linton, which he had compiled from heterogeneous material. It is worth taking not that the first public encounter with Blake’s imagery took place through the agency of Linton’s lively translations. The overall impression of this variation of Blake is a less solemn and hieratical one than those provided by the original. But even a close disciple of Blake such as Samuel Palmer praised the result effusively: “Surely never a book has been put forth more lovingly: the dear Author and the Editor,--Mr. Linton, the Publisher, and Printer, seem all to have laboured at a labour of love: --and instead of being sparingly illustrated, as I understood it was to be, it is, both in quantity and unrivalled quality, the richest Book of all illustrated ones that I have ever seen.”

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One cannot deny that Linton’s art of visual poetry had benefited in the long run considerably from the close examination of Blake’s graphics, but the habit of Blake scholars to treat him as a kind of minor satellite doesn’t do justice to the complexity. There are some striking instances of overlapping in their mindsets, for instance in their anthropomorphic conceptions of social interrelations, but the gap between Linton’s enlightened scepticism and Blake’s revealed animism remains irreconcilable. Though Linton had admittedly admired Blake’s ability to create powerful moral images, it remains evident that his reclusive mysticism could not be of crucial relevance for someone who strove to express himself in a politically most effective way. In contrast to comparable poets like Burns or Shelley, Blake played no role in the formation of working class culture, and his reputation was confined to small highbrow circles. Accordingly, Blake’s impact on Linton’s work was, in literary as well as in pictorial respects, only one among many. From today’s point of view, with the political aspects of Blake’s work having become more visible, it may be appropriate to conceive both, Blake and Linton, as representing two different stages of contrastable complexity in the progress of the formation of a radical democratic art.

In his “Memories”, Linton gives an account of his first encounter with a set of Blake’s originals, which were kept in the possession of the painter John Linnell: “One Sunday I went with Gilchrist to see Linnell at his house near Red Hill (...) after dinner we were shown his Blake treasures. (...) The Dante designs were drawn in a large book, which Linnell had given to Blake that he might make use of it in his last sickness, during which Linnell had provided for him. It had the look of a speculation, a purpose of being repaid for services to the poor friend; but it did not appear that Linnell had ever attempted to make a profit of them, but kept them as valued mementos only. A strange, dry, withered old man was the painter, quaint in speech, with strange utterance of strange opinions, a man who might have admired Blake as much for his literary incoherences as for his artistic imagination.”

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